Wiebe, Adam (d. 1653)

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Etching of Adam Wybe's cable car in Danzig.
Artist: Willem Hondius.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Adam Wiebe: civil engineer and inventor; born in the Frisian city of Harlingen to a Mennonite Family. He married Margaretha (b. ca.1587) about 1610 and they had five children, all born in Danzig. Son Abraham (b. 1628) was taught by his father to be an engineer and between 1656 and 1657 replaced his father as Danzig’s chief engineer of water works (Wasserbaumeister). Adam had one known brother who came with him to Danzig and settled in Freienhuben, near the Nogat River. Adam died in Danzig in 1653.

Nothing is known of Adam’s early life though like many other Mennonites, he may have fled to the Vistula Delta of Poland because of persecution in the Netherlands or moved there for employment. It is thought that Adam and his brother were in Danzig at least by 1610 but he is not listed on the city’s citizen list, most likely because as a Mennonite he would have refused to swear the oath of allegiance to the city.

The first record of Adam was in March 1616, when he was granted a contract by the Danzig City Council for the construction of a Dutch windmill in a nearby village. In 1624-25 he worked in Warsaw, where he received from the Polish king the title of Royal Engineer (Inżyniera Królewskiego). Though offered employment in Torun, Elbing, and Riga, he returned and remained a permanent resident in Danzig. Here and in the surrounding Vistula Delta area he designed, engineered, and built many projects, often in hydraulics such as water supply projects, drainage, dredging, and water wheels. These included: a bridge at Śluza Kamienna; an aqueduct over the moat at Riedenwald; and the channeling of water to supply Danzig using the Radunia River. He also invented and built a portable water pump for fighting fires. In the years 1634-1637 he supervised regulatory work at the mouth of the Vistula River and then was advisor for the construction of a bridge over the Vistula at Torun. He built a remarkable mechanism for moving the mythical figures of Atlas and Hercules on the ceremonial gate to the city of Danzig in 1646 as the city welcomed a visit from the Polish Queen Marie Louise Gonzaga.

Adam’s most famous engineering invention was in operation in Danzig in 1644. His invention was of an aerial tramway, also known as a ropeway conveyer, bucket line, or aerial conveyor. This invention was used to move large quantities of soil from the Bishop’s Mountain to build up the defensive perimeter of the City of Danzig. A long rope loop had a series of buckets firmly attached and the rope passed over several wheels aerially mounted on long poles. The rope circulated the buckets when full of soil from the top of Bishop’s Mountain to the lower positioned city walls where they were emptied. The rope then carried the empty buckets back to Bishop’s Mountain for refilling. Gravity on the full buckets moving downhill propelled the conveyer. In history this is considered the first demonstrated use of aerial conveyers and Adam is known as its inventor. In spite of all his cost and labor saving inventions Adam remained poor to the end of his life.

Adam Wiebe, his life and descendants, were fictionalized by the Canadian writer Rudy H. Wiebe in his work Sweeter Than All the World (Toronto, Alfred A. Knopf, 2001).

There is no reliable documentation on Adam Wiebe's exact birth date, his brother's name and some of his children's names.


Bosscha, H. C. Mededeeling omtrent Wybe Adam, Nederlandsch ingenieur der XVIIde eeuw. 's-Gravenhage, 1895. 5pp.

Kuijper, Gerry. "Wybe Adam van Harlingen." In Oud Harlingen 12 (1997): 12.

Penner, Horst. "Die Wiebes." In Mennonitische Jahrbuch (1951): 14-20.

Wikipedia. "Adam Wijbe." 1 December 2015. Web. 13 December 2016. https://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adam_Wijbe.

Author(s) Victor G Wiebe
Date Published December 2016

Cite This Article

MLA style

Wiebe, Victor G. "Wiebe, Adam (d. 1653)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. December 2016. Web. 19 Jul 2018. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Wiebe,_Adam_(d._1653)&oldid=155814.

APA style

Wiebe, Victor G. (December 2016). Wiebe, Adam (d. 1653). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 19 July 2018, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Wiebe,_Adam_(d._1653)&oldid=155814.

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